So I sort of took this winter off with Sherman. Knowing somewhere in my heart that his saddle wasn't making him totally happy, and dealing with a significant change of profession, I allowed myself to not do too much work with the BBW from October to...oh, last week.
As someone who only started riding about six years ago, and who has only gotten as far as she has by doing it, working it, practicing it every day, this lapse in training was not a good idea. The physical fitness and muscle memory deterioration was one thing. But the mental boogeymen who took advantage of the lapse in training by taking up residence in my brain-- they were certainly the worst side effect of time off.
Yeah, I spent the winter realizing that I've only been riding horses 18 months longer than Sherman has been alive. And thinking about that every day. Some days, it was a pat on the back-- look how far you've come! Only riding for 5 years, and you started your young horse last season, well done! Sometimes it was an excuse-- come on, I've only been riding for 5 years; how can I be expected to be that good? But sometimes it became a nagging chant of ridicule-- You've only been riding for five years. What the hell do you think you're doing on that green horse?! Green on green = black & blue. You got lucky last year when it was all new to him; now that he's got it under his belt, he's going to kill you.
And, of course, it was that last voice I gave credence.
So, I got myself freaked out. Not a good place to be.
Thought I could shake it off as bad saddle fit. Once he's comfortable, I'll put those gremlins out of my head, and we'll be fine. Well, the saddle needed fitting, and it's now awesome and he's comfortable, but, um, the gremlins were still there. Rode badly through the fitting process because I was so freaked out (and his little ya-ya buck didn't help!). Rode badly again last week on my own and came out of it feeling completely demoralized.
Now, it doesn't help that riding Sherm the Worm, Squirmin' Sherman is, while he is green and noodly, a lot like riding a unicycle while juggling-- there's a lot to manage. He has a host of evasions and a wicked sense of humor, and enough balance and panache to be absolutely ridiculous while I chase him through the tack. He does not make it easy, particularly not when I've worked myself into a pretty good state of zero-confidence fear. Certain that I am not nearly good enough to manage the bowling pins and the pedals at the same time, I got twitchy.
But late last week two things happened. One, we had some disruptions to the farm schedule, including strange horse on a trailer right at coming-down-the-driveway-for-evening-turn-in-time. Two senior horses got ditzy and worried, silly and ruffled by the disruption. Sherman, of course, headed straight for the trailer and the two trucks, insisting that these people, too, would want to know him. That's what he's all about-- you want to know me! I'm fun! I'm fearless! I can do anything!
This was good for my confidence because I was reminded that he isn't going to flake out / freak out / blindly panic / run off without me. He might run off with me because there's something fun to investigate, but he most certainly won't try to dump me and head for the hills. That's not his nature, and I'm ashamed to admit I had lost sight of that in my own dark night of the soul. I can trust him, and if he trusts me, I must be doing something right, sometimes...
The second thing that happened was that I had the opportunity to go groom for my friend Amy at a clinic she rode in yesterday afternoon. This is my intrepid adventurer friend, the one who made my first horse possible, and with whom I had what still ranks as my favorite riding day ever, a blissful hunter pace in 2010. She thinks I went with her and volunteered to groom for her yesterday out of the goodness of my own heart; truth is, I needed to siphon off a little of her just do it energy. In true fearless fashion, she decided to take this clinic at the last minute and just did it. So I went along.
And as I watched her and the other student in the lesson with her, I rode along like we all do. I sat up, shifted my weight, managed the reins, pressed into one stirrup or the other, all from the comfort of my observer's chair at the end of the arena. I sat and rode and listened and watched and kept hearing in my head well, okay, Sherm and I could do this.... yeah, we could do that... uh-huh...yep...okay... and there we were, at the end of the lesson, hearing the voices in my head speaking positively for the first time in quite a while. Amy and her fabulous pony were sweaty and satisfied, and I was feeling myself coming out of the funk.
So I got on Sherm today, though my ride was prefaced by some jitters and hesitation, and a moment when I nearly talked myself out of it (oh, it's kind of windy out there; might be too spooky to ride...). But I just did it. It wasn't pretty, and we have a long way to go, but yes, we trotted our circles (um, not so round, but we'll get there) and our figure-8s and the like. He tossed his head in the air (juggling bowling pins) and ran ahead (pedal that unicycle faster!) and cut in to the middle of the ring (that one wheel sure can corner!) but I worked on through, on past all the silliness. And he didn't run away with me, didn't buck me off (though he gave me a tentative hop right at the start-- I know that was about testing whether I'd get off or not; when I didn't, that disappeared), and he gave me his best honest try once I stopped thinking about me and just pushed him to go with some rhythm and the beginnings of straightness.
I'm probably not done entirely with the mental heebie-jeebies, but I most assuredly am ready to chase them off while mounted on my trustworthy steed, rather than placating them by staying inside on the couch watching another rerun of Friends.